How to Find—and Keep—Babysitters for Your Large Family

A good babysitter is a rare gem for parents of big families

Babysitter with three kids

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No matter how many kids there are in your family, a reliable and trustworthy babysitter is a must-have. And we’re not just talking about the oh-so-rare-but-much-needed date nights with your spouse: there are plenty of other times when you will need to leave the kids behind and head out to an adults-only event, meeting, work obligation, or appointment.

When you need to take a little parental leave, you might tap anyone from Grandma to a close family friend to the reasonably mature 16 year-old neighbor to fill in for you...but finding any kind of babysitter—regardless of how much they love your kids—gets way more complicated once you have more than two or three children. 

Why? Because taking care of two kids for a few hours is not the same as taking care of five. Unless you’re an experienced multi-tasker who can stay immeasurably cool under pressure, keeping half a baseball team of kids alive and well while their parents are away is one heck of a challenge. 

So how do large families handle the dilemma of a) finding good babysitters and b) making sure they stick around? Here’s everything you need to know about lining up childcare for your supersized brood.

Your Options

Basically, you need someone comfortable managing care for several kids ranging in age from infant to young adolescent (assuming your 13 year-old can mostly fend for himself). Where in the world can you find such an elusive creature? 

Adult Family

For many people, grown-up relatives (think Grandma or Auntie Kate) are first tier babysitters: you know them well and you know they love your kids already. Obviously, there are exceptions—you may not live in close proximity to any family members, or you may have contentious relationships with them, making them no more trustworthy than a stranger. Still, most people prefer to rely on family whenever possible.

Older Children

If you have more than five kids, chances are one of them will be old enough to babysit their siblings at some point. This is very subjective: only you, as the parent, can decide whether one of your older children can handle the responsibility. A mature 14 year-old may capable of supervising a few younger children...or he may need to be closer to 16 before he can be left alone with your toddlers.  

Friends

“Honorary Aunties” are pretty popular right now, as more women choose to delay having children or skip mothering entirely (and some of these awesome aunts do have kids of their own...they just happen to love yours, too!). Either way, a close friend can be the next best thing to Grandma or Grandpa when it comes to calling up a reliable babysitter for your kids.

Hiring More Than One Sitter

Many parents of large families are tempted to bring in reinforcement sitters so one poor person isn’t left in charge of everyone. There’s nothing wrong with this: you can have both grandmothers tag-team it, or hire two teenage siblings as a package deal. Just be aware that sometimes “too many cooks in the kitchen” applies to babysitting...and make sure you work out the financials in advance (like if both sitters are going to split the pay equally). 

Neighbors

Maybe the retired schoolteacher next door is desperate for something to do in the late afternoons when your kids get home from school. Maybe the mom of three up the street would love to arrange a childcare swap so you can both attend parent-teacher conferences. And the nearby teenager saving up money to buy her first car? She might be willing to do just about anything to reach her goal a little faster, including tackling all six of your *ahem* energetic kids.

Professionals

If you can’t find anyone within your circle willing or qualified to babysit your kids, you’ll have to broaden your search.

Using a childcare service or website can help you meet and vet sitters with a range of experience, from casual weekend sitters to full-time nannies. Plus, you can specifically look for a sitter with large family experience to ensure they know what they’re getting into. 

Just a reminder: plenty of families find caring, attentive sitters through childcare services, but you should still be cautious when you go this route. Some agencies are more discerning than others so it’s important to inquire about a sitter's background and references before bringing them into your home. 

Laying out Expectations

Finding a babysitter who can meet the basic needs of all your kids at one time is tall order enough—once you start asking them to do your dishes or laundry, make dinner, help with homework, or drive them around to sports or extracurriculars, you’re increasing their responsibilities exponentially. 

We’re not saying you can’t ask your sitter to do anything other than keep your kids alive, but most parents of large families know that in order to keep their babysitters sane (and coming back next week), they have to maintain low expectations for what else might be happening while the sitter is in charge. 

If you’re paying for a babysitter, it’s important to have an open, honest conversation upfront about what’s expected while they're “on duty.” If you’ll need them to throw in the occasional load of laundry, tell them. Don't assume they'll choose to perform extra tasks out of the goodness of their heart. 

If there’s no payment being exchanged (i.e. your sitter is your mother-in-law), it’s still worth having a chat. Remember that, ultimately, this person is helping you, so you may need to pick your battles about what gets done around the house when you’re not there.

For example, if you need a sitter to feed your kids dinner, you would ideally buy or prep something easy-to-make in advance, give her instructions on meal time, and tell her to just leave the dirty dishes in the sink. Otherwise, you may end up dumping too many responsibilities on her plate and leaving both of you frustrated, disappointed, or resentful. 

Settling on Payment

This may be, hands-down, the hardest part of finding and keeping babysitters for a large family. Babysitting rates vary widely from one situation to the next, increasing and decreasing according to sitter experience, the ages of your children, and the expectations you lay out.

But are large families expected to pay extra for each additional child beyond the first? How much extra (and what’s the starting rate, anyway)? What about older children...do you pay them to watch their siblings, or is babysitting just another way for them to pitch in?

The bad news is there’s no one answer to any of these questions; you have to decide what you can manage and work it out with your sitter. But the good news is that you have a lot of options to choose from. (Just remember that performing a significant amount of other duties while babysitting typically demands additional pay, so adjust accordingly.)

  • Hourly pay, flat rate per family. For example, you offer your sitter $25 an hour to watch all six of your kids. The average per hour babysitting rate in 2017 was about $16, so this accounts for the fact that you’ve got way more than the standard 2.5 children. 
  • Hourly pay, starting rate plus additional children. Starting with the average of $16 per hour, you add an extra $1 or $2 per child. If you’re taking two kids to a dentist appointment and leaving four behind, you’ll pay your sitter anywhere from $19 to $22 per hour that day. 
  • Flat rate per session. You call your sitter up and offer her $100 to babysit your six kids for three hours on a Saturday night so you and your husband can go out to dinner. (She's feeding them dinner and putting them to bed, so you added in an extra $25.)
  • Sibling or special rate. If you want to pay an older child for babysitting and one of these other options doesn’t work for you, you could consider a discounted rate—if you would pay a professional sitter $16 per hour, maybe you pay your 16 year-old $10 or $12. You can also “pay” them in other currencies: buy their tickets when they take a friend to the movies on Friday night, or add to the money they’re saving for the ski trip next month.

The bottom line is that communication with your large-family babysitter—whoever they are—is key. Be clear about expectations. Be clear about payment. Be grateful for those who babysit unpaid (and maybe leave them a coffeehouse gift card once in a while to show it). With any luck, your sitter will quickly learn the ropes of watching your boisterous brood and will be eager to help whenever you call.  

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